To win games, and ultimately championships, teams must be able to stop the run and pressure the passer, which is why defensive line talent is so important. Much like the 2010 draft class offered defensive line depth, the list of front four prospects for 2011 is also deep. The trickledown effect of a solid defensive line can be immense, including helping defensive backs in coverage.
More and more, teams are looking for linemen who thrive in a 3-4 scheme. In 2001, only one team played a 3-4. In 2007, more than 10 teams used the 3-4 as one of their defenses. This year, the figure has jumped to about 16, with the Washington Redskins among the teams having made the switch. The 12 teams that played in the last six Super Bowls have all had very good defensive lines that produced lots of sacks. Only four of the 12 had less than 40 sacks (2006 and 2009 Colts, 2008 Cardinals and 2009 Saints). The 2007 Giants and 2008 Steelers each had over 50 sacks during the regular season.
For defensive ends, size and long arms are needed on the strongside, while speed is a key trait on the weakside. Defensive ends who can apply pressure from the quarterback’s blindside (Minnesota’s Jared Allen) are a real asset.
Here are my top five Junior and Senior defensive end prospects.
5. Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson, 6,4″, 275 lbs. Junior.
Two years ago, Da’Quan Bowers signed as Clemson’s top rated recruit in history. After enrolling into Clemson a semester early, Bowers found himself making an immediate impact in front of the Death Valley faithful. While his numbers in the last two seasons may be a bit disappointing to some, Bowers’ potential stands at a first round caliber for most NFL teams. He spends most of his free time on weekends in the off-season playing guitar in his father’s Gospel band, the “Legendary Singing Stars.” I’m very impressed with his 4.64 40 yard dash.
4. Allen Bailey, Miami (The U), 6,4″, 288 lbs, Senior.
Allen Bailey has not spent much time at defensive tackle, but that has not stopped NFL scouts from drooling over his potential. As a freshman in 2007 he spent most of his time on special teams and played just two downs as a linebacker. In 2008 he started four games at defensive end. However, he would often move to the interior of the line during third down situations. He ended his sophomore campaign with 36 tackles, 9.0 tackles-for-loss and a team high 5.0 sacks. His potential and versatility led to high expectations heading into 2009; Bailey did not disappoint. Bailey’s tackle numbers slipped to 32 during the regular season, but he ended up with 11.0 tackles-for-loss and 7.0 sacks, leading the Hurricanes in both categories. At 6-4 and 288 pounds, Bailey is a fine pass rusher and could be a good tackle in the NFL if he adds some weight. His versatility is a plus, but NFL teams will want him to be either an end or a tackle. For me his best position is the 5 technique defensive end position. I like Hayward and Clayborn in that role also. Bailey runs a 4.79 – 40.
3. Robert Quinn, North Carolina, 6,5″, 268 lbs, Junior.
Robert Quinn is expected to be the next great pass rusher out of North Carolina since Julius Peppers. Quinn is a super athletic defensive end that possesses all the physical skills to take over games in the NFL. Quinn has a rare initial burst off the line which allows him to get into the opponents backfield. Quinn’s quick burst and overall speed makes him a target for double teams. However, he has developed several pass rush moves that allow him to get around those double teams. His 6 forced fumbles last season only enhance his playmaking ability. Quinn makes his living in the offensive backfield. In high school, he was told he had a brain tumor. Luckily, it was benign and they performed successful surgery to remove it. Quinn hasn’t been slowed by it and there have been no ill effects from it either. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops with him, however. He’s been involved with the talk about ongoing investigations into North Carolina players who might’ve received improper benefits. Right now, it’s too early to tell if it’ll have any affect on his draft status. Either way, there’s a good chance he’ll declare early for the 2011 draft.
2. Cameron Hayward, Ohio state, 6,5″, 285 lbs, Senior.
Cameron Heyward has football in his blood. His father was an NFL running back and his step father was a great college player. Heyward has proven himself to be very versatile for the Buckeyes during his career. He has started games at both defensive end and defensive tackle, with equal success at each position. He became a starter early in his freshman season, finishing with 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and forcing a fumble. He followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign where he registered 36 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and forced another fumble. As a junior in 2009, Heyward tallied 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks for the Buckeyes. He could play left end in a 4-3 alignment, he can play defensive end in a 3-4 defense, and would also fit well as a defensive tackle in a cover 2 defense. If Heyward had declared, he could have slipped into the late first round, or early in round two. Heyward decided to return to Ohio State for his senior season in an attempt to vault himself higher into the first round in 2011.
1. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa, 6,3″, 285 lbs, Senior.
Adrian Clayborn enjoyed a breakout season last year for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Clayborn is a quick and athletic defensive end. He utilizes his speed and athleticism to generate pressure on opposing offenses. Clayborn does a great job at keeping offensive lineman’s hands off of him which allows him to use his speed to get to the quarterback. In the situations where a lineman is able to get position, Clayborn is able to use a wide array of pass rush moves. The thing that makes Clayborn special is his high motor. He never quits on a play which causes trouble for offenses. He put up 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season. He also showed up on the big stage, helping Iowa beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Clayborn has all the traits to be a very good player and is an outstanding person. He should go in the top 10 of the 2011 draft. I think he could go 1st overall with his talent. He’s my favourite defensive end at the moment.
Tredegar, Wales, United Kingdom.